hack. [very common]. 1. n. Originally, a quick job that produces what is needed, but not well.
The Christian Bible has a lot to say about false teachers and misleading prophets, from the snake in the Garden all the way to the False Prophet that represents the Beast Power spoken of in the book of Revelation. They are everywhere, but always disguised in religious garb—wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Paul: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2)
John: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” (1 Jn 4:1; 2:18)
Peter: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…many will follow their shameful way and bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Pet 2:1-2)
Jude: “These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.” (Jud 1:12)
Believers are warned to watch out for such distorted teachings and those through which they come. Some will heed this warning. Others will think their church and ministers are all right and that the problem is in other churches, to their own deception and rejection. Official ministries have been set up to finger the cults and deceptive teachers, but rarely do they include themselves in such review, though we all naturally distort everything we touch. So, how can anyone know what is right and what is not?
There are several key marks, that cannot be disguised, which help identify faithful ministers from false leaders, but the revelation is a two-way illumination. It is not enough to just see these marks. The observer must also be informed by the Spirit of God to be able to see them for what they are. Those whose consciences have been seared, cannot recognize these marks in themselves or in others—they have been divinely blinded into thinking they are just fine as they are.
The easy approach that most will choose—that broad path that leads to destruction—is to just claim that they are on the right side and refuse to allow any question or doubt to deter their belief in their own guarantees for salvation. Just say, “I accept and believe in Jesus”, and your ticket to eternity is punched. Entire theologies have been erected to formalize language that helps such people believe that they cannot lose out, that they are assured salvation, no matter what they do, no matter how disobedient they may continue to be, no matter that their specific name is never mentioned in Scripture as being guaranteed simply because they want it to be.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)
A humble Christian will know of this and approach their own assessment and the observation of what is being taught by others with what the Bible says is required in order to be granted the wisdom of spiritual discernment. That key, that absolute necessity to be able to see truth from error, begins with the fear of the Lord.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Pro 1:7)
Perhaps the first mark of a ministerial hack—a false minister or a deceived believer—is a rejection of the need for expressing and maintaining a healthy and biblical fear of the Lord. God speaks against those who say they believe in him, but don’t show this quality, by saying, “should you not tremble at my word”, and as Jesus put it: do not fear man who can only kill the body, but God can destroy you in far greater detail, so fear him!
“…and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander…but these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand…and like beasts they too will perish.” (2 Pet 2:10-12)
Such misleading teachers have been scarred from all sensitivity. They project attitudes of superiority, often with strong conviction and lots of Bible quotes, but absent of any caution when representing the Living God.
All humans, including baptized believers in Christ, retain a sinful human condition (or nature) that is being transformed, but is not yet completed this side of Jesus’ return. That means that every one of us needs to acknowledge our inherent sinfulness, that is forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ, but is not yet removed and changed. In other words, we can still be like Peter’s dogs that return to their vomit.
Deceivers will reject such a possibility. That is one of their hallmarks. They will reject the belief of Paul that after serving in ministry, he could still be disqualified. They will teach ideas that dismiss the need for such fear of the Lord. They will change the meaning of fear to just “awe”, or “respect”, but ridicule any need for repentance or (as Jude worded it) having “qualms”.
The writer of Hebrews warns believers not to misunderstand the nature of God, just because the method of approach appears to be so much more gentle than that experienced by ancient Israel. Back in the day, those people were scared spit-less as God taught them specifically to fear him and be very careful to follow every detail of his words. For Christians, however, we come in “joyful assembly” and in so doing can easily mistake this change of approach as a change of God. Rather the text concludes
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven…for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12: 18-29)
Teachings that dismiss or ignore promoting the continued need for expressing a fear of the Lord, are a hallmark of false ministers. Even the above text is often dismissed as not applying to Christians because it warns about fear of judgment for not listening to what God says and not obeying. The preferred idea is that Christians are guaranteed salvation, so no warnings should be listened to. If you hear such things, you are being shown an identifying mark—what you do about it will determine your own personal belief about the need for the fear of the Lord.
Perhaps the second, and most damning, mark of a ministerial hack involves teachings that shift the focus away from the supremacy and centrality of Christ: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Pet 2:1). Or, as John worded it:
“but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist”. (1 Jn 4:3)
Acknowledging Christ is not accomplished by just referencing him, which many false teachers still do, but about promoting him as Sovereign Lord over everything, even over how we interpret Scripture. The common teaching about predestination–which is about individual names that have been identified by God before creation to be guaranteed salvation–is a classic example of this distortion away from Christ. In both Romans and Ephesians, the two letters that actually use the word predestination, they speak about the glorious plan of God that he established from the very beginning to bring everything under Jesus, for him, and through him. The entire idea of predestination is about God’s plan through Christ–it is not about individual names guaranteed salvation. The plan puts the focus on Christ and the purposed will of God, whereas the false teaching puts the focus on the individual.
“So that in everything, he might have the supremacy” (Col 1:18)
If you are hearing ideas that put the individual at the front, rather than sustaining Christ as the focus, then it is probably a false teaching, or is mixed with deception. The popular teaching to “come as you are”, should be “come accept who He is, rather than maintaining who you are”. Humans are not supposed to be the focus; Jesus is! If you are hearing teachings that put angels, aliens, politics, morality, social justice or anything else ahead of bringing every interpretation and practice to the centrality of Christ, then it is a huge flag and should probably be avoided.
Those who promote the belief that a believer must atone for their own sins committed after they have been baptized, turn the attention away from the completely sufficient sacrifice of Christ and onto the efforts of individuals. That is an example of a false teaching, and it can be spotted by measuring its focus.
Surprising as it might be to hear, there are entire denominations that shift the focus away from the primary supremacy of Christ and toward the Holy Spirit. That too is a false teaching, for though the Spirit certainly is worthy of our praise, our worship is supposed to be focused on the centrality of Jesus according to the will of the Father. God wants the glory to put Jesus front and center in everything. Those who think they have the Spirit, or even emphasize God the Father, but don’t keep their focus on the Son, “don’t have either” (1 Jn 2:23).
One of the most dominant deceptions that infected the early church in this way, involved turning believers away from focusing on Christ and toward observing the Old Covenant Law along with their profession of faith. Those who claim to be Christian and promote such ideas, the Bible declares, are “alienated from Christ”.
To those who mix that Law into Christian practice, the Holy Spirit has pronounced a double curse: “may they be eternally condemned”. Jesus is our legal standard now. It is by following his words, and by submitting to the Spirit of Christ, that we find guidance for our lives, not by returning to “weak and beggarly principles”.
Those who teach that Christians must still observe the Sabbath Day, practice circumcision, live by the 10 Commandments, avoid unclean meats, tithe a tenth of earnings, or any other command found in the Mosaic Law, which was not taught by Jesus or his first apostles upon believers, are shifting their focus away from Christ. This still happens all over within the church today, fulfilling the prophecy that “many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”
Perhaps the third common mark of a ministerial hack is the replacement of active faith. It seems unthinkable that any teacher would dismiss the need for faith in a Christian, but what they often mean when speaking of faith is only part of what the Bible says.
Scripture uses the term faith to speak of both the claim of belief in Jesus as well as the expression of trust in what cannot be seen. Profession and expression are two different references about faith in Scripture, but certainly related. The former is what is being referred to when the Bible says that some have come to faith, abandoned the faith, or shipwrecked their faith—that is speaking about their profession rather than their expression. In other words, such people have accepted or turned away from Christianity (even though they may well still be attending church, preaching from the Bible, or thinking they are saved).
False teachers don’t tend to attack the profession of faith. That would be too obvious. Rather, it is this latter expression of faith that is often replaced. Their theologies will introduce heresies that secretly or subtly shift a believer away from needing to step forward with faith. Beliefs that promote guarantees of salvation upon a person’s profession of faith, rather than on the evidence of Christ, end up replacing an ongoing dependence of trusting in Jesus with doctrines of assurance.
Both Old and New Testament writers record that “the righteous will life by faith”, which is a revelation about expression, not profession. In other words, those that God considers righteous are not those who simply claim faith in Jesus, or who belong to the right church, or who have accepted the Lord by word and baptism; rather, those who are righteous will actually live and act out their faith by expressing what they believe through obedience and trust per the words of God. It is this living expression of faith that false teachers will undermine with ideas that salvation is guaranteed to those who simply profess faith.
Those who accept such teachings will claim their assurance guarantee based on their professed denominational-doctrine, rather than on the promise of Jesus for those who continue to hold to his teachings, which requires human participation. The former doesn’t need to express faith, because it has replaced it with a law of doctrine. The latter completely depends on Jesus following through for those who endure to the end by how they live, act, think, and mature.
The popular idea that if you obey, God will materially bless you, is an example of this distorted teaching. We are commanded to obey, but such obedience, does not earn or cause us to get what we desire. No one, not even the pious, is guaranteed while in this life to be healed, or to get wealthy, or to escape suffering. Those were promises under the Old Covenant, but Christians have a new covenant connection to God, and cause-and-effect produce very different outward results in a Christian than in an ancient Israelite. If you prefer what was offered to Israel, you cannot have what is offered through Christ, which is said to be much more glorious beyond comparison.
Expressing faith requires that a believer act in ways that demonstrate that they trust Jesus, which false teachers will denounce as “works of men”. The very thing the Bible commands—that without expressing faith, it is impossible to please God—has become something detestable to many professing Christians, because these deceptive teachers have repackaged the biblical requirement for living by our faith as if it is something dirty and wrong.
It is one of the main hallmarks of a ministerial hack to teach things that replace the need for expressing life-long faith in what has yet to be completed. “The righteous will live by their faith”, rather than just profess it, while claiming an iron-clad guarantee of assurance that no longer needs to trust humbly in Christ completing what he has promised to those who demonstrate that they love him.
Through the prophets, God made it painfully clear that even if he gave an individual a specific, personal, promised guarantee of eternal life as a righteous man, but then in the end, he didn’t maintain living with righteous faith, then God would reject that promise and “he will surely not live” (Eze 33:13). To this revealed truth, the text tells us how false ministers will respond, by saying: “The way of the Lord is not just”. But God says it is their ways and teachings that are false.
As noted earlier, the entire predestination concept is one of those twists that put the emphasis on doctrinal claims of individual guarantees and away from submitting to and trusting in the continued grace of God. Not only is the focus off, it replaces the need for expressing a faith that doesn’t have any other natural explanation or proof.
The individual name-guarantee has replaced the faith of promise. The references that God called Sampson, Jeremiah, and possibly Paul “from the womb”, is often ignored as being something unique, and rather taught as proof that God didn’t just identify them before birth for ministry, but rather that they, and thus every human, have been identified before birth for salvation. Of course, all those references speak about select ministry and not about pre-birth identification for guaranteed salvation, which is why Paul himself stated about running the race for the crown of salvation:
“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:27)
Faith is no longer needed if a person has a guaranteed contract. A promise to enter the stadium for the big game takes a degree of trust; whereas, when a person holds a ticket, they don’t need faith to be let in, since they are holding their guarantee. That is the problem with such teachings—they claim a profession of faith, without any continued dependence upon expressing faith.
Perhaps a fourth major hallmark of a ministerial hack is that they look and sound more like a Christian than Christ. Sounds weird, and that may be why it is not recognized as an identifying mark, but God has chosen the weak of the world to confound the mighty. Those weak, believe it or not, look and sound weak. It is those who sound so polished, educated, talented, amazing, and good that confuse the sheep in being able to recognize the true shepherd.
It is a lesson of sport fishing and hunting. Fashion the lure to look and move exactly like what the target fish wants to eat, and the fisherman will have a significantly better chance of hooking a big one. Tweet on the cow call or bird reed, with just the right inflection, and the target animal will come charging in to where the disguised hunter lies in wait. As the Proverb goes, “How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!”
We are warned that even Satan goes about disguised as a good angel, and you can bet that he doesn’t do so with a disheveled costume. Undoubtedly, he looks, sounds, and acts perfectly convincing. That is one of the key marks. If it looks too good to be true, then don’t assume you will be skilled enough to see under the fur. That is the point. They say everything so well.
It is not by our skilled observation that we can tell the difference. It will only be possible to spot by the revelation of the Spirit, along with the by-product fruit of their teachings and life, which often takes time and repeated measurings to recognize what may not be manifested until the last moment, and long after we have become comfortably attached.
They will preach Jesus, but it will be “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached”. Paul admitted that he was not an educated public speaker, like many of the other ministers that had risen to the top of the pile within the early church:
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor 11:1-15)
Don’t expect the popular to be among the faithful—that would be rare indeed. Don’t expect the powerful or dominant over large and successful ministries to be among the weak that God has chosen—it is possible, but not likely. Don’t think that the charismatic and friendly are automatically trustworthy, for the abusive know that candy and a smile is a powerful drug. Jesus warned his little flock of followers not to follow the crowd, when the cry goes out, “here he is”, or “he is over there”.
If the minister and his teachings are comfortable (like it will always work out well for you); naturally preferable (like grandma is in heaven smiling down on you); full of stand-alone biblical references, passages, and quotes from God, that do not agree with the overall word of God (like when Satan quoted Scripture to try and get Jesus to follow him); create environments that resemble theme-parks, great family reunions, and active clubs for every age and desire (we have it all in this church); then be warned. God is not likely giving you something attractive to follow, rather he is warning you that Satan is offering you poisoned treats for the here-and-now.
True ministry will resemble less of the magnificence of the stones and gold of the Temple, and more of the shame and disgrace of the Cross. We must go out of the city walls and join Christ in his shame, taking up our cross daily, or we will not be accepted as belonging to him. While on this earth, our Lord had nothing physically that would attract us to him, and in like manner, so ministers will have little to naturally draw us to them or to their ministry.
What we ought to look for in ministry is faithfulness to the word of God, the gospel, as it was originally taught by those God identified as teachers of the foundation to Christianity. We desperately need to sustain the focus on Jesus in everything we think, belief, and do. We ought to look for those living with a fear of the Lord and an emphasis on enduring and expressing faith as a demonstration of our faith. Look for those who reflect the Cross more than tout the achievements of their ministry.
The hallmarks of a faithful Christian will be the evidence of a transformed nature away from the desires and preferences of this life and increasingly toward submitting to living by every word of Scripture. Their lives will reflect love, faith, and grace as they acknowledge truth whenever it shows itself. In turn, they will follow Scripture’s requirement to “contend for the faith once for all given to the saints”, by identifying what is in line with Christ and what is showing evidence of distortion away from the fullness of the gospel. Such believers will put a premium on what the original apostles taught, and subordinate subsequent doctrines invented by later leaders in the church.
Ultimately, the greatest hallmark of a Christian will be the display of Christ—the “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”—Not a different Jesus of human crafted theologies, but the biblically revealed Lord who delights to work through the marginal, rejected, obscure, weak, and naturally-challenged.
What do the marks of your life, beliefs, and associations indicate about your identity? Many will claim to know him, but by their actions, Scripture says, they will actually deny him—the very opposite of what they say about themselves and about those they supported (Tit:1:16). Our doctrines, church memberships, and our convictions do not save us. Only Jesus saves.
Do you prefer the hallmark channel, or the marks of suffering? It is a straight and narrow path, and few there be that find it.